How do you have a deep allegiance to Jesus and the secular political process? Is it possible to be “Ra-Ra Jesus!” and “Go-Go Democracy!” at the same time? Given the unfolding spectacle on our televisions, monitors, and handheld devices I would say it is almost impossible. Some of this depends on your party and how you view a particular candidate’s positions; do they align with your understand of Christian teachings? However, I’m not sure many people are asking this question. If you believe the press, only “evangelical” Christians care about the faith of their candidates. Yet I’m not concerned about how Christians participate in elections. I think there’s a much more important question: should people of faith be involved at all?
Before you to start to quote words like “civic duty”, “people died for your right to vote”, “democracy”, and “sacred rite” let me tell you this: it’s not always been this way and for many Christians it’s not this way today.
No one would argue against the faithfulness and devotion to scripture of the Amish, Mennonite, and Old Order Amish communities. They take their devotion to Christianity and the words of Jesus seriously. This is why they are skeptical of being co-opted by a government which is in the business of waging war. They are committed pacifists. They question their participation (at any level) with the government that may implicitly endorse actions which contradict their beliefs about Jesus’ teachings. As with many in our society, the Amish and Mennonites realize the differences between political candidates in our society are illusory. Cloaked in the guise of social compassion, both parties support the death penalty, large defense budgets, exploitive economic policies, and other issues anathema to Anabaptist theology.
Among the actions the Amish and Mennonites question is voting. As one Old Order magazine asked in the lead up to the 2004 election, “Is it really our duty to see that a God-fearing president is elected? Are we shirking our duty if we don’t vote?”[i] In general, the Amish and Mennonite leaders have discouraged voting in national and state elections. Why? They take Jesus’ words seriously. When Pilate and Jesus met on the day of his execution, Jesus talked about his kingdom being “not of this world”. In other word, Pilate was from one “earthly” kingdom and Jesus was from another “heavenly” kingdom. There are two kingdoms. Ultimately, the Amish and the Mennonites see themselves as more accountable to the heavenly kingdom. The Old Order Amish encourage their followers to do what they must, as long as it doesn’t conflict with God’s laws and commandments. Voting has largely been seen as a step too far into Pilate’s kingdom. In this “two kingdom theology”, secular government and the actions which create it (through elections) is an “earthly” kingdom you don’t need to participate in.
Amish resistance to voting is rooted in the practice of prayer. Amish thinkers argue that prayer is more effective that voting, God decides the outcomes of elections, and living faithfully is more important than stepping into the voting booth. As one Amish writer said, “One Christian on his knees is worth more than 12 in the polls”. It’s hard for a believing Christian of any denomination to dispute that point because you’re forced to contest the efficacy of prayer. And as this Amish Bishop notes, reliance on prayer is also scriptural:
[ii]The scriptural way to move God to put in leaders is to pray for them. This moves God. What if we vote and we lose? Did God lose the election then? No. Let the world vote and all Christians get on their knees and call mightily on God who sets in leadership whoever He wants there. No Christians should vote. . . . Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.” Which Kingdom do we belong to?
It’s hard to argue with prayer, scripture, and stepping back to let God take control. With each passing day, I’m feeling more Amish and Mennonite. For a variety of reasons, I want to excuse myself from this ugly process and pray. Our brothers and sisters from the Anabaptist tradition seem to have good idea, grounded in scripture, and prompted by prayer. Is there room among the Mennonites for a Methodist who doesn’t want to vote?
[i] Marcus Nolt, “Casting Our Votes,” Family Life, Nov. 2004, 17. Paton Yoder provides a good historical overview, “The Amish View of the State,” in The Amish and the State, 2nd ed., ed. Donald B. Kraybill (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), 23-40.
[ii] Monroe Hochstetler, The Budget, Sept. 29, 2004.